A Hungry Person’s Guide to Hot Luck, Austin’s Premier Food Festival

Four days of barbecue and hanging out with chefs? Consider yourself booked this Memorial Day weekend.

May 9, 2023 7:28 am
people squeezing lime on food
Never been to Hot Luck before? Here's what you're missing out on.
Hot Luck

Austin is a festival-heavy town, with options ranging from massive events like SXSW and Austin City Limits to one-day food fests like Field Guide. So there’s always a good reason to stand around in a field or concert venue while eating, drinking and listening to music. But the best reason to do so in May is Hot Luck, the Aaron Franklin-backed festival that brings together chefs and bands from Texas and around the country for a four-day bacchanal that kicks off on Thursday, May 25.

Hot Luck was founded in 2017 by Franklin, Mohawk owner James Moody and Mike Thelin, who ran Feast Portland for a decade. The point is to channel friendly tailgates, family reunions and potlucks in a fun environment that celebrates cooking, music and camaraderie. So it’s more of an eat-with-your-hands picnic and party experience than an overly precious, self-congratulatory display. For the interested attendee, that means spending Memorial Day weekend eating and mingling with chefs, bartenders and hungry attendees during the day, and then reconvening at night for live shows at venues around town. 

Tickets are on sale now, and you’ve got options. The Whole Enchilada package grants you access to the entire shebang, including the opening night party and all concerts, and it gets you into food events earlier than everyone else, so you’ll get first pick of all the best bites. Otherwise, you can purchase tickets to individual experiences. The three main food events are going down on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and concerts run Thursday through Sunday. Proceeds benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation, a Chris Shepherd-led nonprofit that provides financial assistance and mental health resources to hospitality workers.

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Which Chefs Will Be There?

Austin chefs are well represented at Hot Luck. In addition to Franklin, you’ll find lauded names like Tavel Bristol-Joseph (Canje), Fermín Núñez (Suerte and Este), Yoshi Okai (Otoko), Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel (Birdie’s), Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria) and Mashama Bailey, who opened Diner Bar in Austin and runs The Grey in Savannah, Georgia.

Hot Luck also draws chefs from around the country, with big names including Bricia Lopez from Los Angeles, Chris Bianco from Phoenix, Gabe Rucker from Portland, Misti Norris from Dallas and Mason Hereford of beloved New Orleans sandwich shop Turkey and the Wolf.

Those chefs and lots more will be serving plates at three primary events. Hi, How Are You? is the opening night block party, taking place Thursday evening at Franklin Barbecue’s backyard. Big Top is an ode to carnivals that’s happening at Fair Market on East 5th Street on Friday. Saturday brings Al Fuego, the festival’s main event and a celebration of live-fire, open-air cooking, where you can expect lots of barbecue, smoked meats and cold beer at Wild Onion Ranch in South Austin.

What Bands Are Playing?

Throughout the long weekend, two dozen bands will take the stage across four venues: Mohawk, Hotel Vegas, High Noon and new East Austin venue The Coral Snake. If you’ve purchased the Whole Enchilada package, you’re able to attend as many shows as you want. Otherwise, you can buy individual concert tickets through the Hot Luck site to see acts like Robert Ellis, Shinyribs, the Gories, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, and plenty more.

What Should I Eat?

The easy answer is “everything.” There’s no menu to view ahead of time, but you can make a beeline for your favorite chefs (they’re all listed on the website, so you know who will be where) once you arrive at individual events. Expect lots of meat, especially at the opening night party, where you’re assured to eat well courtesy of barbecue joints like Franklin, Feges, and LeRoy and Lewis, as well as Al Fuego, which focuses on open-air cooking. Otherwise, you’ll find a wide variety of food, as each chef puts their personal touch on what they serve. Beer, wine and cocktails will also be plentiful, so you won’t go thirsty between plates.

Like all festivals, Hot Luck can get crowded, especially if you arrive late to the marquee food events. When in doubt, show up as soon as the doors open, and you’ll have first crack at sampling all the best bites. And then getting seconds.


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